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Hone Heke with his wife Hariata, circa 1845
Hone Wiremu Heke Pokai (1807? - August 6, 1850) was a Māori rangatira (chief) and war leader in New Zealandmarker. He is considered the principal instigator of the Flagstaff War.

Biography

Born at Pakarakamarker south of Kerikerimarker in the Bay of Islandsmarker, Heke was a highly influential chief of the Ngā Puhi tribe. He grew up in the Kaikohemarker area, scarcely surviving the vicissitudes of tribal warfare. As a youth, he attended the mission school at Kerikeri and came under the influence of the missionary, Henry Williams. Subsequently he, his wife and children were converted to Christianity and Hone became a lay preacher.

However, it was as a warrior that Hone Heke established his reputation. He took part in the first battle of Kororarekamarker in 1830, in Titore's expedition to Tauranga, and fought with Titore against Pomare II in 1837.

There are conflicting reports of when Heke signed the Treaty of Waitangi. It may have been with the other chiefs on February 6, 1840.

Māori discontent grew after the signing of the treaty. The capital of the new colony was shifted from Okiatomarker to Aucklandmarker with the corresponding loss of revenue for the Bay of Islands. The imposition of customs duties, the banning of the felling of kauri trees and government control of the sale of land all contributed to an economic depression for Māori. Furthermore it became clear that the Britishmarker considered the authority of the chiefs to be subservient to that of the The Crown although the treaty promised equal partnership.

As a signal of his unhappiness with the plight of Māori, Hone Heke chopped down the flagpole carrying the British flag that flew over Kororareka. The British interpreted this as an act of rebellion and soon the two cultures were at war. In the time space of 6 months Hone Heke actually chopped the flagpole down three times. To prevent this from happening yet again, the Crown ordered in a battalion of British soldiers to defend it. Heke created a diversion with the help of Kawiti and, whilst the soldiers were fighting on the beach, Heke and a few others crept towards the flagpole and cut it down for the fourth time. This was the beginning of the Flagstaff War.

Heke took an active part in the early phases of the conflict, but he was severely wounded during the Battle of Te Ahu Ahu and did not rejoin the fighting until the closing phase of the Siege of Ruapekapeka some months later. Shortly afterwards, Heke and his ally, Kawiti met their principal Māori opponent, Tāmati Wāka Nene and agreed to seek peace. Nene went to Auckland to tell the governor that they had made peace. This did not prevent the governor, George Grey from presenting it as a British victory. Despite this, Heke and George Grey were reconciled at a meeting in 1848.

Hone Heke retired to Kaikohe where he died of tuberculosis two years later. He is still regarded as a great leader by the Ngā Puhi and many of the Māori people. To this day, his burial place remains a secret known only to a few people although this is subject to considerable speculation.

Pākehā Māori Frederick Edward Maning wrote a near contemporaneous account of Hone Heke in A history of the war in the north of New Zealand against the chief Heke, although it was written primarily with an aim to entertain rather than with an eye to historical accuracy.

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